Published on Monday, October 4, 2010 by Agence
A member of the
The nation's highest court refused to hear the case, without giving a reason, dismissing claims from the detainees lawyers that the possibility that their clients had been subjected to eavesdropping was complicating the cases.
Intelligence services were given the authority to carry out wiretaps without first obtaining court approval after the September 11, 2001 attacks. But the existence of such tapes was only brought to light in 2005.
Pointing to US law on the freedom of information, the lawyers for the detainees held in the US military base in Cuba, asked to be given any relevant documents by the National Security Agency (NSA).
But in the name of national security, the NSA has refused to confirm whether there was any eavesdropping in these cases, or to publish any documents.
The lawyers first brought the case to court in 2007 in
"The Obama administration has never taken a position -- in this or any of the other related cases -- on whether the Bush administration's NSA surveillance program was legal," said Shayana Kadidal, one of the lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights.
"In this case they claimed that even if it was illegal, the government has the right to remain silent when asked whether or not the NSA spied on lawyers. Today the Supreme Court let them get away with it."
© 2010 Agence
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/10/04-7
Published on Monday, October 4, 2010 by TomDispatch.com
A Hall of Shame of State Snooping, Prying, and Informing Aimed at Destroying the Fabric of Civil Society
The dried blood on the concrete floor is there for all to see, a stain forever marking the spot on a
It is a stark and ghostly image speaking to the sharp pain of absence. King is gone. His aides are gone. Only the stain remains. What now?
That image is, of course, a photograph taken by Ernest C. Withers,
In addition to photographing moments large and small in the struggle for black civil rights in the South, Withers had another job. He was an informer for the FBI, passing along information on the doings of King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Ben Hooks, and other leaders of the movement. He reported on meetings he attended as a photographer, welcomed in by those he knew so intimately. He passed along photos of events and gatherings to his handler, Special Agent William H. Lawrence of the FBI’s
In an exhaustive recent report , the Memphis Commercial Appeal detailed Withers’s undercover activities, provoking a pained and complex response from the many who knew him and were involved in the civil rights movement. His family simply refuses  to believe that the paper’s report could be accurate. On the other hand, Andrew Young, with King during those last moments, accepts Withers’s career as an informant, saying it just doesn’t bother him. Civil rights leaders, including King, viewed Withers as crucial to the movement’s struggle to portray itself accurately in Jet, Ebony, and other black journals. In that Withers was successful -- and the rest, Young suggests, doesn’t matter. Besides, he told the Commercial Appeal, they had nothing to hide. “I don't think Dr. King would have minded him making a little money on the side.”
Activist and comedian Dick Gregory, hearing Young’s comments, turned on  his old comrade. “We are talking about a guy hired by the FBI to destroy us and the fact that Andy could say that means there must be a deep hatred down inside of him,” he said. “If he feels that way about King only God knows what he feels about the rest of us.”
This is the way it is with informers, so useful to reckless law enforcement authorities and employed by the tens of thousands as the secret shock troops of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Surveillance has multiple uses, not the least of which is to sow mistrust, which in turn eats at the cohesion of families, social and political movements, and ultimately the fabric of community itself.
D’Army Bailey, a former Memphis judge and target of FBI surveillance in the 1960s, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the use of informers in everyday life ruptured fundamental civic bonds, fomenting deep suspicion and mistrust. “It's something you would expect in the most ruthless totalitarian regimes. Once that trust is shattered that doesn't go away.”
Earl Caldwell, a former New York Times reporter and now a professor of journalism at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University, pointed out  that the black community in the South in the 1960s granted a special trust to black journalists. Indeed, some of those journalists took out an ad in black newspapers in February 1970 pledging not to spy or inform or betray that trust.
“If all that we've been told through these documents that have been released, if that’s true, then it puts a... very, very, very heavy, heavy mark not just on [Withers] and his work but on the trust that the black journalists made many years ago with the black community,” Caldwell said.
Keeping Tabs on Americans for Fun and Profit
That was then, this is now. The Withers story is, of course, ancient history, shocking to many, yes, even though it is well known that FBI and police informers permeated the movement in general and King's circle in particular, and illegal wiretaps and bugs snared even the most private conversations of civil rights leaders. But few who thought or wrote about the Withers news found it an especially relevant tale for our present moment. How wrong they were.
If, amid anti-communist hysterias and social upheaval decades ago, the U.S. government employed armies of informers and other forms of often illegal surveillance, government and law enforcement agencies today are actually casting a far broader surveillance net in the name of security in a relentless effort to watch and hear everything -- and to far less attention or concern than in the 1960s.
In fact, a controversy in
The Pennsylvania surveillance case , which is just the latest of these glimpses into the secret surveillance world of our ever more powerful national security state, does not directly involve informers (as far as we know). It marks a different point on what FBI Director Robert Mueller has referred to as the “continuum” -- the whole environment of daily life, really, which in the post-9/11 world has been appropriated by law enforcement officials in the name of “terrorism prevention.”
“There is a continuum between those who would express dissent and those who would do a terrorist act,” Mueller said  ominously in a 2002 speech. “Somewhere along that continuum we have to begin to investigate. If we do not, we are not doing our job. It is difficult for us to find a path between the two extremes.”
What does that mean? Just last week, FBI agents raided half a dozen homes of anti-war activists in Minneapolis  and Chicago , carting away papers, computers, clothing, and other personal effects, all in the name of investigating “material support of terrorism.” The activists, their supporters, and their attorneys have a different view: they see the raids as designed to intimidate and disrupt legitimate political dissent -- points on “the continuum.” It is a virtual certainty that evidence of intrusive surveillance will surface as these cases mature.
In Pennsylvania the continuum has meant, most recently, that the state Office of Homeland Security contracted with a small outfit, the Institute of Terrorism Response and Research, run  by a couple of ex-cops, one from York, Pennsylvania, the other raised in Philadelphia and a veteran of Israeli law enforcement. For the past year, the institute has been providing secret intelligence reports via the state Homeland Security Office to
Many of these reports focused  on groups opposed to Marcellus Shale drilling, which you may not have known was a breeding ground for terrorism. In fact, you may not even know what it is. But particularly in
Opposition from various environmental groups, then, has threatened to spoil the party. What a surprise to find many of those groups mentioned in one “counterterrorism” report after another. For instance, a report on an “anti-gas” training session in
“Training provided by the Ruckus Group does not include violent tactics such as the use of IEDs [roadside bombs] or small arms,” a 2009 institute report assured its no-doubt-relieved readers. “The Ruckus Group does, however, provide expertise in planning and conducting demonstrations and campaigns that can close down a facility and embarrass a company.” To spell it out: this counterterrorist monitoring institute was providing public-relations alerts for private energy companies at tax-payer expense.
For nearly a decade, 9/11 has been used to justify this kind of “intelligence” provided to corporate and private interests. Such information may have nothing to do with terrorism, but it serves nicely to illustrate how the protection of private profit has trumped concern for real public security. What was missed as institute “analysts” pondered potential Ruckus Group embarrassments to energy companies?
Rendell, who claimed  shock and embarrassment when the reports became public this month, has now cancelled the institute’s $103,000 state contract. He also insisted that he knew nothing about the contract, and reaffirmed the right of peaceful protest in the
Not so fast. My colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer Dan Rubin first reported  the institute’s questionable focus on July 19th. At that time, the state director of homeland security, James Powers, defended the institute’s work, citing intelligence warnings about protests at the G-20 summit in
How could Rendell not know about this? Among the many unanswered questions to date: Who received these reports and for what purpose? The state has declined so far to disclose a list of the recipients. But in an email  that Powers inadvertently sent to an anti-drilling group, he all but admits that the intelligence operation, at least in part, served corporate drilling interests.
“We want to continue providing this [intelligence] support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies,” Powers wrote. (He resigned at the beginning of October amid on-going criticism over the institute's reports.)
Fusion centers are largely products of the war on terror, a result of the massive waves of federal “security” counterterrorism funding that flowed nationwide in the wake of 9/11. More than 70 such centers now exist around the country, serving to gather “intelligence” from private and law-enforcement sources and state and federal agencies. This information is stored for future use as well as distributed to local police, state police, private corporations, and various public agencies.
In the case of the
The specter of bombs, vandalism, disruption, violence, and anarchy infused these reports and hundreds of arrests were made during largely peaceful protests. Civil rights suits  have, not surprisingly, followed in the aftermath of the summit.
Names, Names, and More Names
Here is the continuum at work. A group is singled out by an intelligence report -- a Quaker “cell” opposed to the wars in the
Michael Perelman, one of the principals in the Institute of Terrorism Response and Research, defended his group’s work by arguing that even peaceful protests have security implications and that the institute did not track individuals. This is disingenuous. The institute and the state fusion center, officially known as the
The tracking of legitimate political groups and people engaged in lawful political activity is, of course, a fundamental corruption of American democracy. Consider what happened in
But the story didn’t end there. A month after the initial 2003 protest, demonstrators, led by Direct Action to Stop the War among other groups, held another
The identification of dissident political groups, the gathering of names, the manipulation of actual acts -- these are the overt purposes of surveillance and informing. In reality, the goal of all this furtive, fervent activity is not to dismantle terrorist networks but to disrupt legitimate civic and political activity -- and especially, in the post-9/11 world, to identify and infiltrate U.S. Muslim and Middle Eastern congregations, civic groups, neighborhoods, and activist organizations.
Toward that end, the FBI has moved to beef up  its ranks of informers. In its 2008 budget, the bureau sought more than $13 million simply to vet and track more than 15,000 working informants, and noted that new informants are signing up every day. Information provided by those informants and by other increasingly ubiquitous and sophisticated surveillance techniques is now funneled to fusion centers -- making it all just a mouse-click away from public and private agencies nationwide.
In the 1960s, when Ernest Withers was an informant, such computer-driven intelligence storage and distribution was only a gleam in J. Edgar Hoover’s eye. Nevertheless, in
Withers’s image of striking Memphis sanitation workers holding aloft an unbroken sea of signs reading “I Am A Man” remains as vivid today as it was half a century ago. That a photographer who documented the segregated South so powerfully labored as a police informer may seem an unnerving contradiction. But Ronald Reagan also served as an FBI informer. So did the ACLU’s famed First Amendment lawyer, Morris Ernst. Gerald Ford, a member of the Warren Commission, funneled information about the Kennedy assassination directly to J. Edgar Hoover as well.
Informers have multiple, often conflicting motives, and Withers, who died in 2007, is not around to explain or defend himself. The report on his activities during the civil rights movement, his betrayals of the movement’s most prominent leaders, and his hand in destroying local activist groups, however, is a powerful reminder of the long history of political surveillance in this country and the corruptions and animus it breeds. Whether it is the FBI’s use of informers within the civil rights movement or the state of
The tainting of character, the undermining of basic trust, the disruption of democratic politics -- these are the great achievements of state surveillance. Thanks to 9/11 and truckloads of homeland security money, the stain of those achievements is now flowing as swiftly and freely as streams of data on a vast fiber optic network.
Copyright 2010 Stephan Salisbury
Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the
[Note on sources: Analysis of the use of surveillance and fusion centers at G-20 summits in Pittsburgh and elsewhere may be found in .pdf file format here . Alarmist police reports disseminated on G-20 threats in
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/10/04
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs